The Bangladesh government has rolled out a new scheme for landowners in Dhaka to convert their residential plots into commercial ones.
Under the scheme, owners of residential plots in Dhaka’s four upscale neighbourhoods - Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara and Uttara - can apply to convert those into commercial plots.
In addition, plots of land next to a 100-ft wide road can be converted from residential use to commercial, with a fee between Tk 5 million and Tk 10 million per Katha, a unit of land measurement in Bangladesh which is equal to around 1.65 decimal.
On May 3, the Ministry of Housing and Public Works issued a circular to this end, noting that this rule will apply to residential projects by Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, or RAJUK and other areas under its jurisdiction.
Residents in the areas and urban planners interviewed for the article categorically said the already horrendous traffic congestion in the city would worsen if all areas were opened to set up commercial establishments.
Defending the move, RAJUK officials said the initiative had been taken to stop the illegal commercial use of residential plots.
For converting residential plots to commercial use in Gulshan, Banani, and Baridhara, the landowner must pay Tk 10 million per Katha as a fee, except for Baridhara’s J Block. Landowners must pay Tk 5 million per Katha for the conversion in that area.
The fee for Uttara residential areas is set at Tk 5 million.
Plots can be commercialised on Gulshan Avenue and Kamal Ataturk Avenue in the Gulshan residential area, Pragati Sarani in the Baridhara Residential Area, and Jasim Uddin Avenue, Rabindra Sarani, Sonargaon Janapath, Gausul Azam Avenue, Garibe Newaz Avenue, Shah Makhdoom Avenue, Shahjalal Avenue, Isha Khan Avenue and Alaol Avenue in the Uttara 1 and 2 residential areas, read the circular.
It also adds that residential plots along other 100-ft wide roads in areas under RAJUK’s jurisdiction can be converted to commercial properties, which means that it only applies to the 36 residential projects approved by RAJUK in Dhaka and other areas outside the project with a 100-ft wide road.
DETAILS OF THE OFFER
- In the ministry circular, the authorities insisted that the decision to commercialise a plot in Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, and Uttara 1 and 2 residential areas will not conflict with the project masterplans of those areas, the Detailed Area Plan, building regulations, land use laws, and other restrictions.
- Owners already illegally using plots for commercial purposes in the recommended areas must apply for conversion and start work on the process within six months. In addition to a set fine, RAJUK will collect the conversion fee. If they do not apply in the stipulated time, RAJUK will take legal action, reads the circular.
- If plots outside the recommended area are used for commercial purposes illegally, RAJUK will take legal action according to the terms of the lease deal.
- As some parts of Baridhara Block K and Gulshan North Avenue are diplomatic areas, conversions of plots adjacent to designated roads are subject to clearance from security agencies.
- In cases of conversion, owners must ensure the establishment of a water treatment system, sewage treatment system, and waste management and provide solar power generation capacity and rainwater storage systems.
- Besides, after approval, 50 per cent of the usable land must be kept as uncovered space.
‘RAJUK TURNED INTO AN EXTORTIONER’
Apel Mahmud is a long-term resident of the Uttara residential area, a suburb in Dhaka’s northern end.
After learning about the new option for landowners, he sounded distraught, saying his area’s traffic situation would turn worse by the move.
“Uttara has been marked as a residential area in the masterplan [Dhaka’s Detailed Area Plan]. The latest attempt is being forced to change the definition of the residential area. RAJUK’s charter says it’s a public organisation created to service people. Instead, lately, it turned into an extortioner. A fee has been set to convert the residential plots to commercial. You’ll see millions of taka will change hands under the table to make this happen. That’s how they [RAJUK] operate; they don’t care how much people suffer.”
Professional Nur Ullah Sohel has lived in Uttara for five years.
“No commercial enterprises should be set in residential areas except for educational and religious institutions since commercial enterprises attract movement of people and traffic,” he said.
RAJUK FOR IT, URBAN PLANNERS AGAINST IT
Many people have built commercial buildings on many small roads using different strategies, said RAJUK Chairman Md Anisur Rahman Miah.
“They will no longer be able to do it. For example, Banani-11 was previously declared a commercial road. But, as it is not a 100-ft wide road, we have stripped the area of its commercial status. We will also take action on residential roads where commercial buildings have been constructed. No one can use them illegally.”
Adil Mohammed Khan of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners believes allowing commercial buildings in residential areas is a ‘terrible’ decision.
The burden on Dhaka should be reduced, and the city must be decentralised, but this decision runs counter to that, he said.
Adil also said that if new commercial and industrial initiatives are allowed in Dhaka, it will further complicate the situation in the capital.
"It does not seem any analysis was conducted before making this decision. Are the ones who made this decision doing so with long-term thinking or through experimentation? Or has the decision been made because someone demanded it and there is pressure?"
According to an official of the Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh, or REHAB, the new opportunity was implemented to give opportunities to certain individuals or special interest groups. The real estate trader, who did not wish to be named, said that Gulshan Avenue, for example, would suffer more intense congestion because of the opportunity to commercialise plots.
"Why should a residential area become a commercial area? There are so many vehicles that you can hardly move in Gulshan and Banani. If the residential plots on the main road are commercialised, the area will become uninhabitable. It already takes an hour to go from Gulshan-1 to Gulshan-2.”
"If this is done, the real estate industry will harvest some profits, but how can you harvest the fruit in the long run if the tree does not live? If this continues, there will be no residential area in the city, and it will not survive.”
Dr Sarwar Jahan, a director of the Policy Research Institute in Bangladesh, termed the latest move due to RAJUK’s failure to stick to an urban plan.
“A complete urban plan will be detailed with how many people will inhabit an area, how much area will be marked as residential and how much area will be marked as commercial. But here [in Dhaka], all the areas are marked as residential, except for some shopping malls and grocery marketplaces. People’s requirement changes along with demographic changes, which is why I believe this new initiative was taken. Additionally, I think several special interest groups are in play here,” he said.
[Writing in English by Shoumik Hassin and Adil Mahmood]